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Soiree for MTV

by on 12 October 2018

Journey on Foot

Soiree for MTV

St Mary’s Church, Hampton, 6th October

Review by Mark Aspen

Jazzy cello, folksy cello? No, no, no most might say, the cello is a classical instrument, middle orchestra but with many beautiful solo pieces: it has the rich throatiness that makes it so good for, well passion yes, but melancholy certainly. But yes, yes we can say, and as Amy Gould in her recent Soiree at St Mary’s has deftly shown us, it is a versatile instrument, quick on its feet (foot?) and full of … fun.

amy's soiree-2

At the special concert in support of MTV, a local youth project run by St. Mary’s (not MTV, the teenager’s controversial radical broadcaster), a freshly coiffured William Ormerod introduced (reintroduced for many of the evening’s enthusiastic audience) Amy Gould, an award winning cellist, trained at the Royal Academy of Music, who is well-known locally, and her nimbly adept accompanist, David Harrod.

amy's soiree-5

The pair were to take us musically on an inspired tour around Europe, but with sojourns across the Atlantic, with Gershwin in the USA and to Argentine for Piazzolla’s tangos and more.

Astor Piazzolla, the Argentinian composer, created the “nuevo tango”, whose newness melded jazz and classical music into the tango. His best-known work is Libertango, expressing an open freedom, which Gould’s spirited playing almost induced some of the audience to dance to its smouldering rhythms. Equally foot-tapping was Le Grand Tango, one of Piazolla’s later pieces that he dedicated to the famous cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. This piece is a musical marriage made in heaven, with the piano providing the staccato tango rhythms and the cello’s huskiness adding the passion. It is a piece that knows where it is going.

However, Piazzolla is not all about swirling sensuality and fiery dancing, Los Suenos lives up to its name, we are in a land of dreams, somnambulant, softly drifting to the sonorous smooth sounds of the cello.

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Then we awake to put on white tie. Ah, George Gershwin, and we are immediately in a sophisticated world of between-the-wars high society … and They Can’t Take That Away From Me. This romantic nostalgic piece is from Shall We Dance and that is what the cello and piano do: cello leading and piano gently echoing the melody. But at a concert it is strictly non dancing and the audience had to content itself with more foot-tapping even for I’ve Got Rhythm, the standard from Girl Crazy, which transcribes (perhaps surprisingly) beautifully to the cello, but with the eponymous rhythm being lightly delivered by Harrod’s piano. Girl Crazy took Broadway to Arizona, but to get away from over-sophistication Gershwin set his “American folk opera” Porgy and Bess way down south in Charleston, South Carolina. The jazzy feel of It Ain’t Necessarily So comes over strongly on the cello and more didactic than the big swinging chorus number of the folk opera, whereas the lyricism of Porgy’s love song Bess, You My Woman Now is more extended on the cello. Leaving America, Gershwin peers thorough a stereotypical 1930’s London peasouper with Foggy Day.

Nevertheless, Gould and Harrod’s landfall in Europe is not in London but in Spain with the first to the two Spanish Dances No 2 by Enrique Granados. This trip to Spain however lingers a little on the other side of the Med. There is a certain mystery about it, well deserving its title, Orientale. One can almost feel the swirling of veiled ladies as they dance, and that exquisite last drawn-out note is quite seductive. It is a French composer, Maurice Ravel however, who takes us truly into Spain with his Pièce en Forme de Habanera, the spiccato cello making the confident, defiant statement of the Spanish dance.

Perhaps exhausted by the dance, we awaken from a dream in Gabriel Faure’s Après un Reve. The cello’s subtle exploration the theme is underlined by the piano. Does it get there? Almost, but then we are gently awakened by another drowsy sound. L’Abeille may sound French, but it is by Franz Schubert. One is immediately lead to think of the better-known bee of Rimsky-Korsakov, but to my mind Schubert’s honeyed composition sounds far more bee-like, and the short piece packs in a hive of virtuosity.

From an Austrian composer to a Czech as Antonín Dvořák takes us into a peaceful forest with his Waldesruhe. In the silence of the woods it feels like an evening walk as the adagio piece uses the cello’s lowest register. On into Slovakia with Bohuslav Martinu’s Slovak Variations, which although based on a folksong are definitely not rustic, but rather nostalgic and wistful. Their reflective nature is at its most intense in the first, becoming urgent and spirited in in the second. The piano opens the third variation with steady solemnity, which the cello picks up with an elegiac boldness, breaking into the lively scherzo of the fourth (did I hearing someone running?) and, in the expansive pizzicato cello of the final variation, I swear I could hear those bees again.

Eastward again, with the Hungarian composer, Béla Bartók, into Romania and his Romanian Folk Dances. We were treated to six of them, but since in a programme note we were told that the dancing involves sticks, sashes, spinning, stamping and even kicking the ceiling (!!), nobody dared to try. Nevertheless, it was exhausting to watch and hear the cello taking us through the dances, with the all these flourishes, including a top register dance “in one spot”, leading to a lively Romanian Polka, and on to the Mărunţel, the fastest of the dances.

We went into Russia with Sergei Rachmaninoff, although his Prelude and Dance Orientale are by no means typically Russian (or typical Rachmaninoff). The pizzicato cello in the prelude however, could have been at home on the balalaika, but the Dance Orientale moves us through smoky bazaars … ah, those swirling veiled ladies again!

Our second Russian composer, and the only living composer, was Nikolai Kapustin, who offered the most interesting fusion of classical and jazz music. As the name suggests, Elegy is contemplative, moving in a steady flow, with the piano initially taking the centre stage until the cello flows in and elaborates the whole with jazz style and rhythm. The overall feel is one of yearning: a remarkable composition, remarkably delivered by a pair of instruments in complete symbiosis.

David Harrod makes a perfect foil to the precise and studied style of playing of Amy Gould, with the refinement and concentration of a Pierre Fournier rather than the abandoned passion of a Pablo Casals. The intensity of her approach tends to be quite addictive and she had a very warm and positive response from the St Mary’s audience.

As a reward we were treated to a sparkling encore, Allegro Appassionato by Camille Saint-Saëns, a brief piece in scherzo form with a hint of gypsy about it … ah! the traveller, of course. The pace was a nice horsey canter, faster for an international journey than being on two feet … … but musically not as fast as being on one foot.

Mark Aspen
October 2018

Photography by Pat Stancliffe

From → Music, Reviews

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